Cardinal Joseph Louis Bernardin, U.S. Roman Catholic prelate (born April 2, 1928, Columbia, S.C.—died Nov. 14, 1996, Chicago, Ill.), was the highest-ranking figure in the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.
Bernardin earned a B.A. (1948) from St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, Md., and an M.A. (1952) from the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. He was ordained a priest in 1952 and he spent 14 years in Charleston, S.C. He became the youngest bishop in the U.S. when he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, Ga., in 1966. Bernardin served (1968-72) as general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, guiding the reorganization of the U.S. church following the second Vatican Council, and for the next 10 years was archbishop of Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition, he was president of the national conference from 1974 to 1977.
In 1982 Bernardin was named archbishop of Chicago, and he was elevated to cardinal the following year.
In June 1995 Bernardin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Facing death with dignity and serenity, Bernardin extended his ministry to large numbers of cancer patients and the dying. In September 1996 Bernardin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.